The Storyteller Reports: The Logical Consequences of E-Books

I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.

Have you heard of Coliloquy? They’re a California-based company who have taken the concept of the e-book and mutated it into an app for interactive fiction. They follow in the footsteps of a similar venture in September called The King of Shreds and Patches. Basically, they let you read a book, and make choices for your character at crucial points. It’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” for the Kindle. What’s new about Coliloquoy is that your choices are recorded by the app and sent to the company to influence future editions.

When I saw these headlines yesterday afternoon, my eyes lit up. My head is only starting to soar. Imagine if this stuff gets popular on the Kindle. The next Great American novel could be interactive.

Oops. Did I just say that out loud? I think I did. Let me repeat it. The next work of literature that could pierce the core of the human condition, and be read and discussed for decades afterward, could be a “Choose Your Own Adventure Book”.

Consider the power is leaves to an author. One of a fictions writer’s greatest powers is fate. What happens to his/her characters says something about how he/she views the world. When the villain falls off an icy cliff because he alienated everyone who might have been with him to lend him a hand, the message is that people who alienate other people are bad. Obviously, we can get more complicated than that, but that’s the idea.

Imagine this principle working in interactive fiction. With more choices come a more sophisticated moral vision. By coming up with multiple plotlines and endings, an author is forced to make more commentary on people and the world; he is forced to broaden his moral scope and ask more questions. This must strengthen the vision of his/her novel- not to mention himself/herself.

If you’re not up for literary fiction, more plotlines will still result in more excitement and more chances to hone your craft. The more you write, the better you get. What could improve your skill better than having to make so many alternate stories make sense?

All it takes is one runaway success to turn this into a legitimate genre. I truly believe somebody is going to take this genre and write a story (erm, stories) that will stun the world. You heard it here. Interactive fiction is going to find a way to become a force in the literary world.

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Hello! I don’t know if you heard, but this blog is moving to a new one. It’ll have all the same weekly features, and news about The Kingdom Trilogy. It will also acknowledge the other projects that I dip my toes in. Check it out here. I’ll post the weekly features on both sites for a while, but before long I’ll make the full transition to the new site.

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day!

Monday Meditations: Everything In Its Right Place

Experience anxiety through Radiohead and Samuel Beckett.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Everything In Its Right Place” by Radiohead

Something about this song will haunt you. That simple piano melody, and that wheedling little voice singing will linger in your mind much longer than it should. Unease and paranoia simply drip from this music.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“I don’t seem to be able… (long hesitation) to depart.”

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (click the link to go to Act I of this existentialist play)

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Hello! I don’t know if you heard, but this blog is moving to a new one. It’ll have all the same weekly features, and news about The Kingdom Trilogy. It will also acknowledge the other projects that I dip my toes in. Check it out here. I’ll post the weekly features on both sites for a while, but before long I’ll make the full transition to the new site.

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day.

2012 Announcements

I don’t know if anybody told you, but we started a new year a couple weeks. In light of that, it’s time to make some huge announcements about this blog and about The Kingdom Trilogy.

1. The Kingdom: The Quest is coming out in paperback at FastPencil on January 22, 2011.

2. The Kingdom: The Stand is coming out in Summer 2012 to Smashwords and the Kindle Store.

3. While you wait, there’s at least three short stories coming out in the spring of 2012. All of them will be free.

3. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I am launching a new account on January 22, 2011. Over the next month, I will transition to doing all my tweeting on the new account.

4. This blog is moving into an even better blog. You’ll get the same weekly features on a new site that will keep you updated on not only The Kingdom Trilogy, but also everything else that I’m up to.

Over the next few weeks, I will post the weekly features on both blogs. All of the news and updates will be on the new blog. Slowly, I will begin using the new blog exclusively. I’m excited to make this change and excited for a big 2011.

What are you waiting for? Check it out!

Notes Of A Storyteller: Why Can’t You Be Artistic?

Doesn’t the phrase “literary fiction” sound prejudiced? Say that word aloud. Let it bounce off your tongue on your lips. Is it fair to set apart a genre that is supposed to intrinsically tackle higher, nobler themes than all of the others genres.

On Wednesday, I described my issues with that idea. Now I want to bring the conversation to writers. Are you a writer? Pay special attention.

I submit that every fiction writer should seek to incorporate theme in their story.

“But wait!” you might say. “I just want to entertain people.”

“You’ll do that either way,” says I. “Make sure you do it right.”

If you have a moral vision for your characters, you will have a much more clear idea of what to do with them. It is the values of the characters that determine what they do, right? If there’s something about life that you want to prove, you have a much narrower field of options to choose from. Otherwise, you’re floundering among a sea of options, many of which are entertaining- so many, I suspect, that you’ll have more trouble choosing.

Let’s be clear, though. I am not advocating propaganda. You need to learn the difference between preaching and sincerely exploring a theme. You can’t just have the hero (or heroine) punch the villain in the face and say, “See there! Capitalism will always win the day.” You need to make things a little more complicated.

Read some philosophy, or political treatises. Try Plato’s The Republic, or Aristotle’s Ethics. Read The Federalist Papers. Think about what they say, and the consequences that might result from following them. Read up on your history, too. Pay attention to the ideas that run through history. You could look at the political struggles between conservatives and liberals in 1800s Europe. Could this have led to World War One? How?

Think on that level, and you might be surprised what happens to your imagination. I bet it will change your fiction for the better. Do you think books with noble themes should be boring? Think again! With theme comes focus. With focus comes urgency. A wizard trying to save the world becomes a lot more interesting to the reader when the wizard isn’t entirely convinced the world is worth saving, or if he does something ethically wrong in order to save it.

Try it. I dare you.

The Storyteller Reports: Literary Fiction As A Genre

RANT OF THE WEEK: Is Literary Fiction A Genre?

According to BooksLive, and to absolutely nobody’s surprise, there is some controversy as to whether crime books constitute good literature. I’ll let them quote the talking heads. In the meantime, I want to ask some questions.

Isn’t The Brothers Karamazov a crime novel? Isn’t it one of the great literary masterpieces of Western civilization? Darn right it is. Isn’t it obvious, then, that you can have a crime novel that is literary? Why are there people condemning entire genres? All good fiction should impact us. The impact might be sadness, excitement, or joy, but there must be an impact. By literary fiction, we mean books that seek to impact readers with ideas, as well as sensations.

Genre should not be the focus, but individual books. Crime novels, thrillers, horror stories, historical romances and all the other genres are settings in which literary fiction can take place- or an entertaining story. It doesn’t provide as much meat for study, but there’s no reason to condemn it.

Take a chill pill.

Monday Meditations: Darkness and Danger

Happy Monday, writers and everyone! Before we get to the imagination-boosting nuggets of word and song down below…

… I have an announcement to make. Soon and very soon, I’m going to make another announcement. This announcement is going to tell you about some huge things that are happening this year. In particular, you’re going to find out a thing or two about the release of the next volume of The Kingdom Trilogy.

I won’t spoil the surprise. Sometime in the next week, I’ll post the news (but I won’t tell exactly when). Until then, enjoy our regular programming.

SONG OF THE WEEK

“Moria” by Howard Shore

Remember those deep voices chanting in Moria? The ones that sounded like the Fates passing horrific judgment on the entire multiverse? Listen to them if you dare.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“We’ll never survive.”

“Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

The Princess Bride

 

Notes Of A Storyteller: Dialogue- Part Two (How TO Do It)

Did you make it over here last Friday? If so, you’ve got some laughs to catch up on. I posted the WORST dialogue you might ever see in your life. I also mentioned some things I’ve learned about avoiding bad dialogue.

But what’s the good of avoiding the bad if we just avoid the bad? Here’s my advice on how to write good dialogue…

1) Watch movies. 

Sorry. That’s no good at all.

1) Watch good movies. I have learned more from movies than anywhere else about how to make good dialouge. When you’re saying something out loud, you have a sharper sense about what words to keep and what words to throw away. It’s an art. Naturally, then, the only way to improve is to absorb the work of other artists. Check out this clip from The Princess Bride…

Here’s one from The Dark Knight. This whole movie is amazing well-written; I spent half an hour going through clips trying to pick one to demonstrate. Listen to the rhythm of the conversation.

Look for movies like these. Play through the best scenes with characters talking to each other. The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes (yes, the Robert Downey Jr. version from 2009),

2) Read good books. Obviously, screenwriters aren’t the only guys around who can turn a phrase. Read Shakespeare (in particular, read Hamlet and Julius Caesar). Read Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Read Flannery O’ Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. If you don’t read anything else, please read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Read this stuff aloud. Get a feel for how the characters go back and forth. It takes time to cultivate that instinct for what sounds good.

3) Make fun of bad dialogue. This will strengthen your sense of quality, as you learnt to distinguish good dialogue from bad dialogue from reprehensibly stupid dialogue. Most importantly, make sure you have a reason for why it’s bad. That will really sharpen your mind. Make sure you have friends around you when you get confident. This is your chance to show off.

4) Practice until you go insane. Keep playing with words, catchphrases and comebacks until your fingers are numb and it’s 1 AM in the morning and your brain is a pile of slush. Then try writing one more line of dialogue. Eventually, you will break through. You’ll know it when it happens.

5) Let other people read your work. We writers can come with wonderful explanations for atrociously bad decisions. Let your unbiased friends have a peek at your dialogue. Better yet, let your savage enemies look at it, and let them tear it apart. Understand why they make the criticisms they do. If you have appropriately savage friends, your dialogue should start looking better in a hurry.

6) Don’t give up. This stuff takes time.

I didn’t give up, and somehow I improved. I’ll leave you with a passage from The Quest which is considerably improved from how it first sounded in my rough draft…

FROM THE KINGDOM: THE QUEST. DO NOT REPRODUCE WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR, SEAN MATTHEW MCGUIRE.

“Larsor?” called Arman.

 “You know my name!”

“W… what’s wrong? Larsor?”

“I thank you, milord!” shouted Larsor, drunk, waving his tangled hair. “For gracing this wretched, cold, filthy hall with your most comely feet and toes, and your wonderful brown hair!”

Larsor started to rise from his bow, and then toppled. Arman started towards him, but the knight only got back up, giggling. He fell again, bonking his head on the bed.

“Oh, make yourself useful and get me a brandy,” mumbled Larsor.

“You… don’t look like you need anything at the moment,” said Arman feebly.

“Arman, Heir of Broamas, I need everything at the moment! More, more, more! Where’s that dratted bottle! Oarath, you pig! You cow! You patriotic blockhead! You can’t keep me from my drink!”

“Oarath’s not here; I am.”

“Good! A captive audience! Let me tell thee of the sluggish, serious ways of the good knight Oarath! Everybody loves him, though he doesn’t do anything but bow to lords and look pretty on a horse! I make the lords laugh, but they always save their love for him! Ansfeld, can you hear me? You can back me up!”

“Who’s… who’s Ansfeld?”

“Ansfeld! Ansfeld! Son of Annarth! The best friend I ever had- dead! I can’t hold it back anymore! Cut down by arrows before he could even draw his sword!”

“At the Meras?”

“I saw the corpse myself! Piled on a horse, like a sack of dirt! Oh, Ansfeld!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry! You’ve never lost a friend! Don’t ever vomit those words at my feet again! More brandy!”

“No.”

“A beer!”

“I’m not… no!”

 “You drank once with me today. Come! The night is young! We’ll tear this town to pieces! Quaff another barrel of ale! We’ll find a Councilman’s girl and yank up her skirts in a plump feather-bed!”

“I… have other priorities at the moment.”

“Like what? The Nameless One? Nothing will dampen his spirits like a good party, don’t you think?”

“Thousands of people are counting on me to do good. I must refuse your offer. Don’t be offended.”

“I’m not offended! I’m drowning in laughter! You won’t ever be a naughty boy, will you? Ha! You’ve never done a brave thing in your life, have you?”

“I set out with Menemaeus…”

“Oh, and that was completely your own decision? A big, flaming spirit nudging you on didn’t have anything to do with it, eh?”

“He’s more than a big, flaming spirit.”

“Then what is he?”

When Arman did not answer, Larsor pressed on.

“Have you got a girl back home?” he said.

“Yes, and I would prefer not to speak of her at this-“

“You never kissed her, did you? Not even once? Ha! You couldn’t do it, could you?”

“Stop!”

FROM THE KINGDOM: THE QUEST. DO NOT REPRODUCE WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR, SEAN MATTHEW MCGUIRE.